Classical Philosophy introduces students to several of the essential philosophical questions raised by the Greek and Roman philosophers of classical antiquity. Contemporary philosophy is the present period in the history of Western philosophy beginning at the end of the 19th century with the professionalization of the discipline and the rise of analytic and continental philosophy. The phrase "contemporary philosophy" is a piece of technical terminology in philosophy that refers to a specific period in the history of Western philosophy. However, the phrase is often confused with modern philosophy, postmodern, and with a non-technical use of the phrase referring to any recent philosophic work.
Naturalism is the essentially the philosophical view that the only reality is nature, as gradually discovered by our intelligence using the tools of experience, reason, and science. Naturalism keeps pace with science’s knowledge in order to describe what nature is like, and what place humanity has within nature. The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy. Its current usage derives from debates in America in the first half of the last century. The self-proclaimed ‘naturalists’ from that period included John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook and Roy Wood Sellars. These philosophers aimed to ally philosophy more closely with science. They urged that reality is exhausted by nature, containing nothing ‘supernatural’, and that the scientific method should be used to investigate all areas of reality, including the ‘human spirit’ (Krikorian 1944, Kim 2003). So understood, ‘naturalism’ is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized—that is, they would both reject ‘supernatural’ entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit’. Even so, this entry will not aim to pin down any more informative definition of ‘naturalism’. It would be fruitless to try to adjudicate some official way of understanding the term. Different contemporary philosophers interpret ‘naturalism’ differently. This disagreement about usage is no accident. For better or worse, ‘naturalism’ is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles—few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as ‘non-naturalists’. This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of ‘naturalism’. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as ‘naturalists’, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for ‘naturalism’ higher. Rather than getting bogged down in an essentially definitional issue, this entry will adopt a different strategy. It will outline a range of philosophical commitments of a generally naturalist stamp, and comment on their philosophical cogency. The primary focus will be on whether these commitments should be upheld, rather than on whether they are definitive of ‘naturalism’. The important thing is to articulate and assess the reasoning that has led philosophers in a generally naturalist direction, not to stipulate how far you need to travel along this path before you can count yourself as a paid-up ‘naturalist’.
As indicated by the above characterization of the mid-twentieth-century American movement, naturalism can intuitively be separated into an ontological and a methodological component. The ontological component is concerned with the contents of reality, asserting that reality has no place for ‘supernatural’ or other ‘spooky’ kinds of entity. By contrast, the methodological component is concerned with the ways of investigating reality, and claims some kind of general authority for the scientific method. Correspondingly, this...
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